The Three Ps of Nature Photography
This is the first entry of a three-part series on the mental approach to photography.
As a nature photographer, the more you can anticipate rather than react to your environment, the more consistently successful your photography will be. At the very least preparation means metering and making your exposure and focus settings before the shot happens. But preparation means so much more than that. Here's a sample of examples, in no particular order:
* Learning how to use your new camera before you take it on that vacation you've been planning for years
* Researching a location to determine when light conditions will best suit you
* Using the hours when the light's poor to scout possible sunrise and sunset locations
* Understanding the weather patterns of the locations you photograph
* Understanding weather in general so, for example, you have an idea what that cloud over there will do, or whether the shower that's drenching you might deliver a rainbow if you hunker down just a bit longer (and where the rainbow might be)
* Learning about your subjects so, for example, you know that those poppies you saw yesterday will be closed tight because it's raining today (but that doesn't mean you should stay home), or that grizzly across the river is more interested in salmon than you
* Figuring out exactly when a crescent moon will be suspended above Mt. Whitney in the post-sunset twilight sky
It's no coincidence that so many of my images have a rising or setting full or crescent moon suspended above recognizable landmarks. It stems from my desire for interesting skies (and a lifelong love for the night sky). When I see a scene I like, I automatically try to figure out when the light will be best, and whether I can add a moon (without Photoshop shenanigans, thank you very much). I time my workshops to correspond with the moon--it's a rare workshop that doesn't include at least one moonrise or moonset.
I captured this scene late last January on the final night of my Death Valley workshop. We had spent three great days photographing Death Valley (the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) before driving 90 miles to Lone Pine to wrap things up with a sunset/sunrise shoot of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. By my calculations, from this location in the Alabama Hills the moon would eventually disappear directly behind Whitney (the peak on the right; Lone Pine Peak is on the left), long after the light left the sky, but not so late that we wouldn't have ample opportunity to photograph it first.
As I often do when photographing toward the brightest part of the twilight sky, I opted for a silhouette, intentionally underexposing the mountains to emphasize their shape and retain the color in the sky. I chose a vertical composition to include Venus.
When the sky became too dark to photograph the moon, we simply stood and watched it descend toward the Sierra crest and finally disappear behind Whitney's faint, jagged outline.
Once the darkness was complete we tried a couple of extremely long exposures to create star trails. Later, over pizza we laughed and passed around cameras to view each other's results. We were so excited about our evening that when the pizza was gone we went right back out in the frigid cold for another round of star trail images.
It's so much fun to realize how such a great shoot can result from just a little preparation. The star trail photography was fun, but I think what everyone will remember of that night was the sight of that beautiful crescent slipping through the darkening sky on its collision course with Mt. Whitney.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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